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Nestle is planning a rice-based KitKat

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Nestle SA is adding its first vegan milk chocolate to its products as the world’s biggest food company expands beyond meat alternatives.

The Swiss food giant will start offering plant-based KitKat bars this year, called KitKat V, according to Alexander von Maillot, head of Nestle’s confectionery business.

The product will be for sale online and at selected stores in a handful of markets including the UK as a test run before a possible wider rollout.

The bar, which uses a rice-based formula as a milk substitute, took about two years to develop. The main challenge in making alternatives to milk chocolate is ensuring it blends well with cocoa and sugar for a creamy texture.

Other substitutes, such as soy or almond formulas, can create off-notes, von Maillot said.

While there are quite a few small labels that make vegan milk chocolate, most of the popular brands haven’t yet joined in on the trend.

Lindt & Spruengli AG, better known for its Easter bunnies wrapped in golden foil, has started selling oat milk-based chocolate bars under its Hello label. Mars Inc has introduced a vegan version of its Galaxy bars in the UK Mondelez International Inc’s Cadbury has also announced plans to make plant-based milk chocolate.

“Demand for plant-based food is growing everywhere,” von Maillot said in a phone interview. “KitKat was a logical choice, as it’s by far the biggest brand and a global brand.”

Confectionery is one of Nestle’s last categories to join the plant-based trend. Nestle Purina last year introduced a blended pet food line, adding insects and plant protein from fava beans and millet to the meat protein.

Nestle introduced sausage substitutes last year and also makes plant-based mince and non-dairy ice cream and coffee products.

The group said that the ban on liquor sales due to the nation wide lockdown regulations to curb the spread of Covid-19 saw its LiquourShop division record a 21.8 percent plunge. “The total number of days that our liquor business was closed added up to 79 days over the six months: 60 days during the first quarter and 19 days during the second quarter,” said Shoprite.

However, the group said its core business, the South African supermarkets, was resilient and contributed 78 percent to total sales.

It said the supermarkets' growth inched up by 5.6 percent and like for like by 4.8 percent.

The South African supermarkets business, excluding LiquorShop sales, achieved a 7.8 percent sales growth, and like-for-like, growth was 5.7 percent, said Shoprite.

Checkers Hyper continued to be star performers as sales increased 11.1 percent while Shoprite and Usave grew 5.6 percent.

The furniture business comprising OK Furniture and House & Home surged 15.7 percent and by 17.3 percent on a like-for-like basis.

“While growth remained high overall, growth during the second quarter was impacted by an already high base in December 2019,” said Shoprite, adding that said credit sales participation declined to 11.8 percent compared with 13.7 percent a year earlier. The group's furniture segment closed 10 stores.

The group's other operating segments, comprising OK Franchise, Transpharm, MediRite Pharmacies, Checkers Food Services (CFS) and Computicket, reported sales growth of 10 percent.

Shoprite said that while the MediRite Pharmacies and Transpharm business traded well, both CFS and Computicket were negatively impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown regulations given their reliance on tourism, hospitality, travel and eventing.

 “The group's OK Franchise division remained resilient, achieving sales growth of 8.1 percent despite the impact of the liquor lockdown restrictions,” said Shoprite.

The group added a total of 28 OK Franchise stores during the period.

It confirmed that the terms of sale of its Nigerian business had been concluded and that the transaction had been lodged with the Nigerian Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission for approval.

“Management expects the transaction to be approved by the end of the 2021 financial year,” said Shoprite. Last August, Shoprite announced its decision to exit or cut its exposure to the Nigerian business after 15 years of operating in that country.

Shoprite shares rose 0.40 percent on the JSE yesterday to close at R145.02.

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